The Absent Leader – Reading the Signs

The Absent Leader – Reading the Signs

The story so far… Jane is trying to manage a project without support from her co-worker or her manager. She has taken a sickie and is applying for other jobs.

It was 8.45 and the car park at Johnson Industries was filling up fast. As Ken, Jane’s boss, was locking his car, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
‘Maya, you made me jump!’ he said, smiling. He’d always liked Maya, the Human Resources manager. ‘How’s things?’

‘I’m glad I caught you,’ she said, ‘I heard a rumour that Jane is looking for another job, is that true? It would be a pity to lose her, she’s a great asset to your team.’

Ken frowned, ‘I’ve heard nothing, but then, I hardly ever see her. Busy, busy you know.’

‘Hmm, perhaps that’s the problem. Got five minutes now so we can talk about it?’

A bit taken aback by her serious demeanor, he followed Maya to her office on the third floor. Her two assistants were just getting ready for the day, turning on their computers and fetching their in-baskets from a secure cupboard. Ken didn’t know much about HR but he knew that a lot of their work was confidential.

‘Like Fort Knox in here, isn’t it?’ he said as he took off his coat and sat down, dropping his briefcase beside him. Maya was turning on her coffee machine, ‘Milk? Sugar?’
‘Both please, one spoon.’

Maya had her back to him as she spoke, still making the coffee. ‘How long have you been here, Ken?’

‘Eighteen months, give or take.’

‘I thought so. I was looking at the annual staff figures yesterday. One sugar, did you say? I notice that your staff seem to have more sick days than any other department. You’ve had two people out of six leave, too.’ She turned and handed him his coffee, ‘What do you think is causing that?’

‘I don’t know, a couple had flu, and the leavers fancied a change. Why do you ask?’

She stirred her coffee and paused before answering. ‘Well, when we see a pattern like this we always wonder if it’s something to do with the manager.’

Ken caught his breath and started to feel uncomfortably warm. ‘I hope you’re not implying it’s anything I’ve done. I work my socks off day in, day out.’

Maya stood up and got some biscuits from a cupboard. She wanted to give him time to calm himself. ‘I know you work hard, Ken, but I wonder how many hours a week you allocate to managing your staff?’

‘Hours a week? What are you talking about?’

‘Well, we all know that when you are a manager you have your own work to do, but managing people is part of that work. Just as you allocate time to other tasks, you need to allow time to manage.’

‘I… I… but… how do I know how much time to allocate?’ Ken was getting red in the face now, and it wasn’t just the hot coffee causing it.

‘You’re right. It’s hard to know because there are so many variables – number of staff, their experience level, projects on the go, etc. It’s all about a frame of mind. You are there to ensure the staff do their work well. Right?’

‘Of course.’

‘It takes time to make that happen. Induction, training, regular talks about how things are going and…’

Ken interrupted, ‘Oh no, if I do that, they’ll think I don’t trust them.’

‘Not if you do it right, it won’t. Allow time to walk around the office every day, have a chat to people, ask about how things are going for them. Not just about work, but life in general.’

‘I’m not interested in their personal stuff, and I don’t have time anyway.’

‘Ken, you don’t have time not to. How much time has it taken to find replacements for the people who’ve left? Train them and get them up to speed? You have to look at the whole picture.’

Before Ken could answer Maya’s assistant knocked on her door ‘Your meeting with the director starts in five minutes.’ she said.

Maya stood up and put a hand on Ken’s shoulder. ‘How about we meet this afternoon to talk this through some more?’ She looked at her diary, ‘Would three o’clock suit you?’
……………………to be continued

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